The NBA is rife with talent from all over North America, and more recently the entire world. There is one place which is considered to be “The Mecca of basketball” however, and this is New York City. The Big Apple lives and breathes basketball, and unsurprisingly this means that plenty of the top players to grace the hardwood first honed their skills in the playgrounds and gyms of New York. Players from NYC have a certain attitude and style unlike any other player, and this is typically a confident, hard working, physical yet flashy style which translates well into the NBA (and particularly the slower paced Eastern conference).
Basketball is an enormous part of many children’s lives in NYC, and for many of them it is a pathway to a better and more financially stable life for them and their family. Of course not too many make it to the pros, and there are dozens of stories of world-class players who would dazzle on the street but never quite make it to the pros. This means that the standard in New York is very high, and this is true whether you are playing at a small park, on the world famous West Fourth Street Courts (The Cage) or Rucker Park, at one of the many top high schools such as Power Memorial Academy, at a University such as St. John’s, or playing against the Knicks (OK, maybe not the Knicks).
Some of the best talent the NBA has seen has emerged from NYC over the years, and you could certainly create a formidable team out of this crop of players. Here are the top 15 players to come from The Big Apple (born, raised and developed their game there).
15 Kenny Anderson
As this list demonstrates, there are many incredible NYC players who starred in high school but never quite made the impact they were expected to once they made the pros. This is very much the case for Queens native Kenny Anderson, who many claim to be the greatest high school PG of all time. He became the first player named All-City 4 times and was named New York State Mr. Basketball and High School Basketball Player of the Year. Anderson set the record for scoring in NY, but this was later broken by Sebastian Telfair (another star PG who has struggled in the pros). He went on to play two years at Georgia Tech where he helped them to the Final Four, before becoming the 2nd pick in the 1991 NBA draft for the Nets.
14 Metta World Peace
13 Rod Strickland
12 Stephon Marbury
11 Billy Cunningham
10 Roger Brown
9 Connie Hawkins
8 Dolph Schayes
7 Lenny Wilkens
Brooklyn born Lenny Wilkens has had an extraordinary career in basketball, seeing him inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player, coach and assistant coach. His playing career begun at Boys High School where he would excel before playing at Providence, where he became a two time All-American. He was selected 6th by the St. Louis Hawks in the 1960 draft, where he stayed for eight years before joining the Seattle Supersonics, and it is here where he became a player-coach and improved the team’s record each season. Next up was Cleveland and finally Portland, and he would retire as a player a 9x All-Star.
6 Mark Jackson
5 Nate Archibald
Nate “Tiny” Archibald is a New York and NBA legend, becoming the only player to lead the league in both scoring and assists in the same season with a breathtaking 34 PPG and 11.4 APG in 1972-73. Before he was dominating on the hardwood in the NBA, Archibald was dazzling on the courts around the Bronx. He became a high school star and worked hard academically to improve his chances of earning a scholarship, and he would play 1 year at Arizona Western College before transferring to the University of Texas El Paso where he averaged over 20 PPG each year. He was then picked in the 2nd round of the 1970 draft. Many passed on Archibald due to his small size, but he would prove doubters wrong by dominating through his scoring and passing ability. In his successful career he became a 6x All-Star and 3x All-NBA First Team in addition to leading the league in scoring and assists, and in 1981 he became an NBA champion with the Celtics playing alongside Larry Bird.
4 Chris Mullin
Chris Mullin is a NYC legend and a player that excelled at every level. Known for being a gym rat, Mullins was born in Brooklyn and studied the game from a young age, and he would travel to areas all over NYC to play against the best. He became New York State’s Mr Basketball and would be recruited to St John’s. Here he became an unstoppable force, earning Big East Player of the Year award three times as well as earning the Wooden Award and USBWA College Player of the Year. He played in the gold medal winning 1984 Olympic team and is one of just three players to win the Haggerty Award three times. He finished St John’s as their all-time leading scorer, and was then selected 7th in the 1985 draft by the Warriors.
3 Bernard King
2 Bob Cousy
Bob Cousy may be a legend over in Beantown thanks to his key role in bringing six Championships to the Celtics, but he is also a New Yorker born and raised in Manhattan. Cousy was raised in a multicultural environment, and this had a large impact on him during his playing career as he had a strong anti-racist sentiment and fought for the rights of his fellow players. He began playing basketball in high school, and after breaking his hand he was forced to play left handed which is what made him such a great ball handler. He would win the NYC scoring title in his senior year, before taking up a scholarship at The College of Holy Cross, where he won a championship in 1947.
1 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
When you think of NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, most fans will immediately think of the Lakers where he spent 14 seasons and won five of his six NBA titles. It was actually in NYC that Abdul-Jabbar emerged, having been born in New York in 1947. He started playing sports at an early age and was already much taller than his peers, ensuring that he dominated at Power Memorial Academy. Here he led his team to 71 straight victories and three city titles whilst setting records in both scoring and rebounding. Thanks to his astonishing abilities and size, his team were named “The no.1 High School Team of the Century”.
After graduating, Abdul-Jabbar made the move to the West Coast where he played at UCLA (where he would also dominate). He went on to be the 1st pick and win a title at Milwaukee, before donning the famous purple and gold and teaming up with Magic Johnson to form an unstoppable Laker team. He is unquestionably one of the all-time greats and one of the most successful players, but before dominating with the Lakers he was representing New York and is the greatest player to emerge from The Big Apple.
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